Sign thefts cheap; results often costly

Published 6:00 pm Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Stealing road signs may seem like a harmless prank, but authorities say the danger posed by missing signs is no joke.

Law enforcement agencies say there are no official statistics as to how many street signs are stolen in Calcasieu Parish, and they don’t see it as a widespread problem.

Lake Charles Deputy Chief of Police Mark Kraus said a young person may steal a street sign to hang on his or her walls if it has his or her name on it. That could, at worst, cause confusion for people who are not from the area.

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But, missing regulatory signs — such as stop, yield and do not enter signs — could create hazardous situations for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

“It’s certainly not the crime of the century, but it has real implication on public safety,” Kraus said.

Kraus said that when patrol officers see that a sign is missing at an intersection, they must protect the intersection until a crew replaces the sign.

“Not only is it a danger, but we are depleting one or two police cars from patrolling,” he said.

Westlake Police Chief Michael Dickerson said that while officers don’t actively investigate sign thefts, they have come across them in homes while investigating other crimes.

“If we do find them, we can charge the person with theft,” Dickerson said. “Usually we ask for them to pay the cost of replacing the sign.”

If the sign is taken from along a state or federal highway, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is responsible for replacing it, department spokesperson Amber Leach said.

Leach said that reports of missing signs usually come in from drivers or law enforcement officers, and crews are sent out to replace the signs.

The cost of replacement could be up to $60 for the sign alone and more if the post was taken, she said.

Leach said that while the cost of replacing signs may seem insignificant, the hazard created by their absence is much more costly.

“It’s concerning for drivers, and even pedestrians,” she said. “If the stop or yield sign isn’t in the intersection, the driver won’t know to stop, and accidents can happen.”